Learning to Savor

I recently completed personality type training for my new job. Third full-time job. Third personality type. But while the title of my personality has changed based on the categories given, the definition has stayed relatively the same. I’m organized. I like a plan. I am more task-oriented than people-oriented. However, when you look at my life and all I’ve experienced, the follow a-plan-aspect doesn’t seem to line up with the “three different countries” of service aspect. And somewhere along the way the planner in me calmed down and realized enjoying the moment was more important than the doing.

I remember going grocery shopping with a friend in South Africa before heading to the field full-time. After we purchased all of the groceries, we sat down and had some coffee at a little cafe next to the grocery store. I was baffled. Wasn’t the food going to go bad? Why were we even sitting down when there was so much to do? I certainly wasn’t savoring the moment and enjoying the conversation. I was stressing about not getting the food home and in the fridge as quickly as possible.

But years overseas taught me to savor each moment. To enjoy the smells and sounds of the cafe on a Sunday morning and to be okay with arriving a few minutes late (although still earlier than most people) to church. To take time to wander the unknown streets on a weekend adventure. To stop and take a picture because I wanted to remember the view. But also to leave the camera in my purse in order to simply take in everything.

Teaching my list-focused self to savor moments required training my mind. Enjoying a conversation when the list was long didn’t occur overnight. I started with reframing my own expectations. I assumed meeting someone for coffee or a meal wouldn’t be a one-hour event; instead, I allowed for plenty of time in my schedule when I met with people. Sometimes I didn’t even wear a watch because I knew seeing the time would distract me from savoring the conversation. I left my cell phone in my purse in order to eliminate another distraction, and I mentally prepared for any type of get together to last quite a while.

I worked those extra hours into my schedule, so if an event or meet up did finish early, I was pleasantly surprised versus being frustrated at how long it had taken. By training myself to leave time for people and for building relationships, I was able to savor the conversations and the fellowship. I began thinking less about my lists and more about the people around me.

At times savoring my surroundings required courage. Driving alone on unfamiliar roads to a tourist destination wasn’t always my idea of fun. For most of my time overseas I had roommates, which was wonderful. We explored together, and there were two or more of us to figure out all of the unknowns. But the years I lived alone in Ireland were a different story, so I started small. I walked around the small town I lived in and enjoyed coffee at a local cafe. I ventured out to the nearest beach or walked to the closest fort. I savored what was immediately around me, places which didn’t require hours of navigating Irish roads.

These baby steps gave me the courage to explore more of the surrounding area. I had a number of visitors during those two years, which allowed for exploring new places with others. Once I had conquered the navigating and the parking with them, I felt more confident about returning to a spot alone. I spent hours and hours wandering the grounds of Blarney Castle during that time. After a visit with friends, I purchased an annual pass. I savored the time I spent there with others and alone, and the grounds became a place of refuge for me. But that never would have happened if I hadn’t been courageous enough to go the first time.

Savoring time with people and in new surroundings involves quieting my mind. Putting aside the to-do list, the cell phone, the map and just being present. Some of my fondest memories are Saturdays filled with wandering cobblestone streets or exploring new cities. In order to savor these experiences, my mind couldn’t be filled with everything I had to get done at home or all of the concerns of the week. No, my mind had to be fully present in the moment.

Watching the street performers, hearing all of the different languages being spoken, tasting the delicious pastry, smelling the aromas coming from the restaurants and feeling the ocean breeze on my face. (Just writing that sentence takes me back to wandering various cities in Portugal with friends.) I have thousands of pictures from my years in Europe, but often I would put the camera away and simply absorb my surroundings. I learned to quiet my mind in order to be completely present in the moment.

For all of the amazing experiences and conversations I savored during cross-cultural ministry, there are a host of ones I didn’t. (I don’t think I ever savored the process of renewing a residency visa!) But the moments I did savor helped negate the difficult moments. They helped carry me through the days when living far from home was stressful and exhausting. And the savored moments are the memories I look back on with joy, the stories I share when I talk about my time abroad. So savor conversations and surroundings this week. For some, this week is difficult as you think of family gathering together, while you are far away. My prayer for you is that you will find at least one moment to savor right where you are this week, even while longing to be somewhere else.

How do you savor moments and conversations? What is one moment you’ve savored this week? We’d love to hear your stories!

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